It starts off with the central front LEDs lit up bright white, and pressing the button on the BlinkyTape switches between steads/left/right indicator modes.
The PowerMonkey is a simple little 5v rechargeable battery, with a variety of adaptors for charging various phones etc. It makes an ideal portable power source for the BlinkyTape.
Here’s a video of it in action.
And I’ve put the source code online too.
I’ve also been experimenting with using the BlinkyTape PatternPaint app to do some light painting.
Lots more fun to have here.
I finally found a way to make Secret less boring.
I spent a week posting and responding to comments using carefully selected quotes from Holden Caulfield.
I gave each one the same background (crimson denim) and I dropped the initial capital on each one in an effort to make the quotes slightly less formal.
Catcher in the Rye is a classic, and full of brilliant angst ridden quotes that are indistinguishable from most of what’s on Secret anyway.
Finding relevant quotes to use in replies was fun.
Sometimes it worked better than others.
Some that I expected to work really well didn’t get any replies at all. I expect I need more friends using Secret to make this work really well.
I gradually started to use more obvious quotes and eventually got spotted.
I had lots of replies from people who seemed to take them at face value though. And unless you knew the book well, why wouldn’t you?
One anonymous friend was horrified at Holden’s use of English.
Holden’s attitude to women and sex isn’t all that great, let’s be honest.
I’m glad someone called him on it in the comments.
I’ve been using the Things app for a while for tracking projects and next actions with the goal of Getting Things Done. I wanted something to help me pay attention to the things I need to get done, and decided that a physical representation of daily progress would be an interesting thing to try.
The hardware build was really easy. More of a bodging together of components than anything. I dremelled out the back of the voltmeter to create a bit more room, fitted it to a small enclosure box, and squeezed the dev board into the remaining space, with the ground pin and an analog output connected to the voltmeter.
The code is pretty straightforward. The Teensy runs a small program that listens for lines of text via the USB serial port and simply sets the output of the voltmeter to whatever percentage value arrives. At this stage I’ve got a simple multi-purpose percentage meter controlled trivially over USB.
Next is a Ruby script that listens for changes to the Things app, works out how many of the tasks in the ‘Today’ screen have been marked as completed today, and sends that percentage to the USB serial port. It’s like a physical progress bar for things I want to get done today. A done dial for life.
I’m going to try it for a while and see how it works. There are probably lots of other things that a progress meter would help with too.
The lovely folks at Paramountzone sent me a couple of shiny new toys to review.
First, the Lightspeed i-Helicopter with on-board camera.
As always with these Lightspeed choppers, you get a good selection of extra bits in the box, including two rotor blades and two tail rotors. With this one, you also get an 2 GB micro SD card which needs to be slotted into the camera so it can store the photos and videos, and a USB micro SD card reader for transferring the files to a computer.
This is a slightly larger version of the original Lightspeed i-Helicopter. Making room for the underslung camera by raising the height of the skids.
Obviously, the eye catching new feature here is the camera. The picture quality, at 680×480 (with 25 frames per second for video) is far from HD, but it’s not terrible either.
How does it fly? It’s what you’d expect from a 3 channel coaxial helicopter. Up, down, forward, back, turn left, turn right. Lots of fun as a first helicopter, though frustrating if you’ve used 4 channel RC choppers (which add the freedom to also strafe or ‘crab’ left + right). It’s definitely sturdy enough, and by dropping the power before a crash landing (to protect the blades) it’ll take a lot of punishment indoors. I’ve crashed it, a lot, with no ill effects. It’s not really designed for outdoor flight, thought I’m very tempted to try it (on a very still day) if only to get some impressive footage of flying outside.
The box boasts that the Copter Controller app is “compatible with iPhone iPod iPad” but warns you to “check website for Android compatibility”. Pleasingly, when you do, it works on a wide range of devices.
- quite long charging time (~45-50 minutes charging for ~6-7 minutes flight time)
- the same USB cable has to be used to charge the chopper and the transmitter separately. If both are flat you’ll be waiting for a while before you can fly
- lack of tactile feedback on the remote (i.e. your phone/tablet) means you’re looking down at the app a lot, especially to control the throttle. The controls for taking photos and video is a bit small and fiddly on small screen too.
- doesn’t live stream video to the app (though for this money you might not expect that)
- cute little lightweight camera lets you capture in-flight photos and video
- nice selection of spares (and a screwdriver) in the box
- comes with a 2 GB micro SD card and (impressively) a USB micro SD card reader
- Copter Controller app is pretty good and the motion control is fun once you get the hang of it
- good app support for both iOS and Android
Second, I also got a chance to play with the new Turbo Drone super quadrocopter.
Have I ever mentioned that I love quadrocopters? Opening this box was super exciting.
It comes preassembled, obviously. Small and light but sturdy. It fits neatly in the palm of my hand.
It comes with spares for all four blades, not one but two batteries, and a USB charger which can charge either one battery at a time or both batteries at once.
Compared to the older, bigger Turbo Drone I reviewed last year, this one is a lot smaller. Having flown both, I think that for this sort of toy, bigger isn’t always better.
This new smaller model is a lot more fun to fly indoors. It needs less room to manoeuvre, it feels less scary to crash it into furniture and it feels really nimble and powerful.
The large arrow on the case, the colour of the blades (red = front, black = read) and the colour of the LEDs (blue = front, red = rear for some reason) all help know which way it’s facing.
The remote has an adjustable sensitivity setting. 20%, 40%, 60%, 80%, useful when gaining confidence and moving and turning more and more quickly. The 100% setting (which makes the remote controller screen change colour from blue to orange so you see it at a glance) is not really a further 20% of sensitivity, but rather moves the device into full on insanity mode and unlocks the ability to flip the drone.
- while I love the futuristic-angered-hornet noise, my wife is not a massive fan of the sound
- not yet convinced about the 100% sensitivity mode. Maybe I just need more practice to understand what’s going on, but the hardware assisted flips, while fun, don’t feel entirely under my control
- so fast! Really powerful for such a small beast
- not bad charging times (~30 minutes charging for ~9 minutes flight time)
- two batteries and ability to charge them at the same time or charge one while flying the other means more flying, less waiting around
- really sturdy little frame doesn’t mind being dropped (which is handy, as I crash it a lot). Silicone base makes for a softer landing and reduces the scary rattling when making a controlled crash-landing
- 2.4Ghz radio controller allows for control over a long distance and multiple devices in the same place
- apparently copes well outdoors if the wind isn’t too bad. I can believe it (it’s rather powerful), though haven’t tried it yet
Both are good, but of the two, this is definitely the one I’d recommend. Easily the most fun remote controlled toy I’ve tried (and my collation is getting pretty good) and the one I’ll be most excited to master. Of all the RC helicopters Paramountzone are selling at the moment, this and the 4 channel V911 helicopter are probably the best value and most exciting.
I spent today at Boring 2012. Now in its third year, in the words of conference organiser James Ward, Boring is “a day dedicated to the mundane, the ordinary, the obvious and the overlooked.” During the introduction he also told us that this was to be “the most boring one yet” and “I can only apologise”.
Here’s what happened.
- James Ward himself was first up, talking about self service checkouts and unexpected item in the bagging area. Did you know that the first self service tills were introduced by Marks & Spencer in 2002? James presented a guide to self service checkouts that was useful as it was amusing, followed by a small collection of till receipts (or, ‘purchase certificates’ as he encouraged us to think of them) for things he didn’t buy.
- Peter Fletcher presented a clever invention, an ode to letterboxes including “inner portcullises of sharp bristles that repel anything but the most rigid of paper items.” A beautiful look at letterboxes from a poetic ex-postman.
- Ben Target performed an untitled performance art piece on rollerblades, to the accompaniment of a reading of ‘tables of weights’, which was evocative of Johann Johannsson’s IBM 1401, A User’s Manual, but with more rollerblading. Rachel was in tears of laughter. James calmly moved us on with “well, it’s not every day that you see that.”
- Leila Johnston presented her collection of IBM tills, of which she has collected over 40 photographs and wants you to share your own. Notable moments included the “white IBM ePOS 300; my Moby Dick” and revelations about Leila’s heavily IBM influenced childhood growing up in Greenock.
- Ed Ross shared “how I like my toast” including a comparison of various toasters and a proposed standard rating system from “warmed bread” up to “German rye bread” which is apparently very heat resistant.
- Rose George informed us that the least boring object in our houses is our toilet, and the rather sobering fact that 2.6 billion people in the world do not have access to a toilet.
- Neily Denny shared memories, maps and photographs of five breakfasts, which ranged from delicious to disgusting.
- Helen Arney started the afternoon by telling us about the features and specifications of the Yamaha PSR-175 portable keyboard (discontinued) in a provocative and entertaining live demonstration.
- Roo Reynolds (that’s me!) shared some of my collections in roughly chronological order, which you can actually read all about here.
- Greg Stekelman talked about being short and one of his favourite websites, celebheights.com, including some hilarious and carefully selected quotes which I wish I’d written down.
- Charlotte Young had prepared a short study of the contemporary celebrity culinary expert on television including surprisingly detailed dissections of both Jamie Oliver and Heston Blumenthal.
- Andrew Male talked about yellow lines and their relation to the Festival of Britain and post-war zoning regulations.
- James Brown enthused about one of his favourite TV programmes; Antiques Road Trip.
- Rhodri Marsden shared a confession about, and several examples of, the soothing and soporific world of ASMR (Auto Sensory Meridian Response) videos; a whole subculture about which I’d previously been blissfully unaware.
- Elise Bramich informed us about tube carriage numbering. Did you know that London Underground trains going North or West have even numbers, while those headed South and East are odd, with the exception of the Bakerloo line and anywhere with loops? She also talked about Vampire Numbers.
- Emily Webber shared some of her carefully curated set of over 1000 photographs of London shop fronts, which she has been collecting for a while.
- Alice Bell talked about the Science Museum (where she used to work) and why museums are boring, except that she was so enthusiastic and eloquent about them that I don’t think she convinced us, or even herself, of this theory. “The technologies of the past which we chose chose not to have show us other possible futures we might have had.”
- Kathy Clugston revealed the arcane world of The Shipping Forecast, a subject about which she knows a great deal having read the forecasts on Radio 4 for some time. As well as being a great example of ASMR, Kathy impressed us all by reciting all 31 sea areas in order. More facts I can’t allow to pass un-noted: The shipping forecast is broadcast four times per day (5:20, 12:01, 17:54 and 00:48), For each area, you get the following four pieces of information: 1. wind direction / 2. wind strength / 3. precipitation / 4. visibility. Veering = clockwise, Backing = anticlockwise. Imminent = 6 hours hence, Soon = 6-12 hours, Later = 12-14 hours. “You can’t get excited when there’s a hurricane!”.
- James W. Smith finished off the day by talking about the benefits of walking to work which is “the only sort of exercise that doesn’t feel like exercise, and therefore the only sort that I’m willing to do”. In the evenings, “I don’t drink much any more because of the cat…” James has calculated that a 3.3 mile walk = 7152 steps = 1 hour = 19ml of saliva, or 376.42 steps per ml. James ended with a rather thoughtful and touching encouragement to try walking to work.
Enormous thanks to James Ward for inviting me but most of all for putting on a brilliant – and not at all boring – day.
It’s 36cm across (including the rotors, which are 13.5cm each), making it just about small enough to fly indoors.
The 500mAh 3.7v li-po rechargeable battery makes it conveniently easy to get spares; I had the exact same battery laying around in another remote controlled chopper.
It takes 45 minutes to charge using the supplied charger, and gives about 10 minutes of flying time.
The red bit at the top of the remote control makes it look as though it’s going to be an infra-red job, but it’s actually 2.4 Ghz with (apparently) a 100m range. That’s pretty impressive,
It claims to be suitable for both indoor and outdoor flight (in ‘fairly calm conditions’) which, while I have yet to try it outdoors, I can definitely believe. Since my back garden is a terrifying tangle of trees I’ll probably be taking it to the local park to try out longer distance flight.
The remote has an excellent feature in which the level of responsiveness can be adjusted between four modes:
- 20% – good for getting started, but soon feels a bit sluggish
- 40% – responds a bit more quickly and feels more nimble
- 60% – twitchy fun. Probably about as high as you’ll go most of the time indoors
- 100% – insanity mode in which the remote beeps constantly, perhaps to remind you that any move of the right stick is going to make it instantly flip 360°
The Turbo Drone RC Quadrocopter is a seriously nice little toy, and you should seriously consider it as a Christmas present to yourself. It’s stable and responsive (with the adjustable sensitivity on the remote allowing you to choose exactly how brave you want to be) and I’m finding it more fun to fly than similarly sized co-ax helicopters. It’s also available from Amazon.
I wanted to explore whether the act of collecting might have some additional extrinsic value beyond the collection itself. It’s also a bit of a confession (spoiler: it turns out that I collect collections) so if you end up skimming through this list, do re-join it when you see the wooden toadstools near the end. There’s a point. Honestly.
This collection of spoons is probably my first collection. I collected tea spoons at every opportunity for a few years but now they’re in this box frame in my kitchen and I have not added to it for a long time. I’m not proud of the fact that quite a few of them are stolen from cafes and restaurants.
I’ve always loved LEGO, but I started collecting it seriously at university, when this Star Wars stuff was new. A few years ago I sold a few sets on eBay (including this one), and as anyone who has sold something on eBay knows, Paypal money is easier to spend than money in the bank…
I became a Lego trader for a while; buying in bulk and selling on eBay to the highest bidder. I ended up buying quite a lot of Lego.
As you can see, it all got a bit out of hand. I now have a rather ridiculous collection. These days it’s actually sorted into little trays and my spare room is now an actual Lego studio. Oh yes. A lot of people want to know if I ever actually play with it.
Not as much as I’d like, but I do sometimes make things. You’ll hopefully recognise the WOPR from War Games, the Usual Suspects and Chris Tarrant saying ‘we don’t want to give you that’ on Who Wants to be a Millionaire.
But really, other people make all the best stuff.
This is bliss for the serious collector; a public group like this is very passive way to build a public collection. Over the past few years I mostly go in a couple of times each month to do some gardening. The group now holds 8,000 photos from 1,700 users.
Let’s see. What else?
A few years ago, I saw this photo from kaptainkobold (another adult fan of Lego), which he took inside the fridge with the door closed, using a self-timer and a flash.
I thought “That looks fun” and quickly took my own, adding notes to annotate what each thing is. You can tell quite a lot about a person by the inside of their fridge.
At dinner parties I would ask friends if I could take a photo of the inside of their fridge. They would open the door for me, at which point I’d have to explain that I was going to need them to shut it again and would they bear with me while the flash warmed up.
Of course I created another Flickr group called In the fridge to collect them. The rules are quite specific.
Constraints are important.
A few years ago I became mildly obsessed with finding examples of things being described as being the new something else.
Grey is the new black, 30 is the new 40, and so on. So I started finding and collecting examples of them.
Some people collect butterflies. I collected examples of the phrase ‘x is the new y’ and I was regularly going hunting, collecting them quite intentionally, in order to make directed graphs like this one.
I’d look at the graph and spot interesting leads; gaps that needed filling. Tea is the new coffee and coffee is the new tea, Glorious. Friendster is the new Livejournal? What’s Livejournal the new one of? As I continued to collect them over a few weeks it grew into quite a big collection. I was quite surprised when The Boston Globe asked me if I’d extend it into something they could publish in their ‘Ideas’ supplement.
They took my SVG files and employed actual graphic artists to make it prettier. My first front page. Of a supplement, but still.
[Update: I've just noticed this lovely new tool Built by Bloom using Twitter's streaming API to show what people on Twitter are saying is the new something else.]
I’ve always loved this joke and for a while collected variations on it, writing them down in a list. I went on holiday recently to Poole. In Dorset? Yes, I’d recommend it to anyone. You get the idea.
And because each one is on a map, you can find jokes for a specific place. It continues to attract new additions, and has expanded my pencil-and-paper list of a dozen ‘Jamaica’ jokes up to about 800 jokes over the past four years.
The Internet fridge has long been the default example of what we can expect in the near future. Imagine a fridge which knows when you need more milk… I can surf the net, cook and keep an eye on my children at the same time… Urgh.
So, I started collecting Internet Fridges. Or more accurately, pictures and mentions of Internet Fridges. Every time there’s a new Consumer Electronics show, people send me lots of links.
Pretty much every tech company makes one, but very few people seem interested in buying them.
More recently, I’ve started another ridiculous collection: photos and videos of things riding on the back of other things.
YouTube appears to be literally full of videos of things riding on the back of other things. I go digging for them, but people suggest a couple of new ones every week.
I also maintain this grid of things riding on the back of other things. Want a photo of a monkey riding on a pig? Just find the right row and column. The more examples there are in that category, the bigger the dot.
I collect interesting links and send them out in a weekly email newsletter. As a side effect, it gives me something else (beyond the links and the subscribers) to collect; the number of Out Of Office emails I receive for each email sent.
Unsurprisingly, it spiked a couple of times during the summer. What will happen in at Christmas? I can’t wait to see.
I didn’t mention this one during the presentation, but I’ve since remembered that I used to take photographs of all the books I read every month, and write a quick review/summary of each month’s reading.
I’d forgotten that one.
There are some amazing collections on the web and, unsurprisingly, many of the best ones are not maintained by me…
- kimjongillookingatthings.tumblr.com (a collection which continues to grow despite the death of our dear leader) is maintained by an Art Director at Y&R Lison.
- kempfolds.blogspot.co.uk is a blog which collects photos of Ross Kemp’s face, folded. Running since 2008, and recently it’s been updated nearly every day. Why Ross Kemp? Who knows. Perhaps he’s just got a very foldable face.
- sneezecount.joyfeed.com is perhaps my favourite. Peter Fletcher has been counting his sneezes since the 12th of July, 2007. Each sneeze gets its own entry, including the time and date, location, a comment, and a subjective measure of strength. Peter says…
“Think of each sneeze as a single frame in the time-lapse animation of your life. The film might depict a disproportionate amount of time spent suffering from colds, or scrambling about at the back of dusty cupboards, but the pseudo-random unpredictability of the sneeze makes it a curiously representative filter on a life.”
“Once I had been counting sneezes for a short time, I became disturbed when I saw someone sneeze, and then not look closely at their watch or mobile phone and take out and write something … in a notebook”
(I once interviewed Peter about this sneeze count blog, and more. I suppose the guests on the Shift Run Stop podcast, and the episodes themselves, are another sort of collection.)
So. Is there a point to all of this?
I hope so.
Putting this presentation together gave me ample opportunity for self-reflection, and I sort of want to justify myself. But:
- I’m not going to tell you that constraints foster creativity.
- I’m not going to tell you that curation of a public collection is an especially interesting form of co-creation in which issues of shared ownership are explored.
- I’m not even going to tell you that by sharing a collection publicly it holds you accountable (to others and ultimately to yourself) which encourages you to keep at it.
All of those things are true, but I think it’s actually simpler than that. It’s a hobby.
My dad has a stressful job, and he sometimes makes wooden toadstools to unwind. It gives his hands something interesting but unimportant to do, and helps him relax.
Now, I know what you might be thinking; this is classic procrastination.
But my collections (and my Dad’s wooden toadstools) are not about intentional procrastination. ‘Sharpening pencils’ when you should be writing or drawing is risky because it’s too easy to confuse it with what you should be doing. If someone walks in on you sharpening your pencil you can claim to be just getting ready to start. If you’re collecting pictures of Colonel Gaddafi shaking hands with world leaders though (oh yes, that’s another one), then it’s pretty hard to convince anyone – let alone yourself – that you’re doing anything useful with your time.
And that’s the point. It isn’t about making something useful. Making or collecting something is not always about getting your day job done directly. Yes, it might help develop your taste, and it might even be beautiful in its own right, but the real benefit is letting your subconscious mind unwind. Not with something too taxing (or the stress returns), and not something too easy (otherwise your mind will wander). The perfect hobby is something that requires just enough attention for your conscious mind to become occupied with something interesting but unimportant, freeing your subconscious to wander around solving problems.
Think of Lester Freamon in ‘The Wire’, quietly making his dollhouse miniature furniture. It’s a perfectly absorbing activity. Other people prefer to knit (someone at W+K used to knit in meetings, which might stop working when you get too good at it). Some people write Haiku. We shouldn’t be surprised that people who spend a lot of time online have online hobbies too.
For me, my preferred way to relax is collecting things and putting them on the internet.
Thank you to everyone who heard this presentation and didn’t ask where do you find the time?
Today, I’ve mostly been making polar panoramas. They please me greatly. Thanks to Dirk Paessler for a great tutorial.
The Tomy GX Buggy is a micro remote controlled car from Tomy, the people who bought you the Q-steer and, before that, the Char-G. I reckon they’ve managed to come up with something even more fun here, and was very pleased when I was offered a sample to review.
To get the obvious stuff out the way, the car is tiny and it’s fast. At 10 cm long, it easily sits in the palm of your hand and at a mere 42g weighs next to nothing. Tomy claims it will do up to 22km/h. I was sceptical at first, but having seen it in action I can believe it. It’s certainly more than fast enough for bombing around indoors. It takes about 20 minutes to charge using the portably charging unit (which takes 4 x AA batteries, not included). From that, you get about 10 minutes driving time.
The GX Buggy remote control (which takes 2 x AAA batteries, not included) offers proportional acceleration, plus braking and reverse as well as (non-proportional, i.e. just left/straight/right) steering. I’d quite like proportional steering, obviously, but even without it the car is an awful lot of fun to drive.
The foam rubber tyres are perfect for indoor use, with good grip on both lino and carpet.
Since it’s so small and light, you’d expect it to flip over when it hits things and spend a lot of time upside down. It cleverly self-rights though thanks to a plastic ring, the ‘roll wing’, which (usually) puts it back on its tyres very pleasingly.
And, being so small and light, and with such good acceleration, it can jump really high even with quite a short run up.
I have not tried it outside yet, but while I think it’ll run ok on tarmac I would be a little nervous about how long the foam tyres would last. I would love to take it to a concrete skate park and see how it performs there though. Should be lot of fun in a half pipe.
After the traditional Final Countdown singalong and introductions from Russell, we were all very much in the mood for an interesting day.
- MJ Hibbett performed Hey Hey 16K, Theme From Dinosaur Planet and Do The Indie Kid, all with audience participation.
- Sarah Angliss (musician, engineer and writer) played the theramin and a motorised disembodied ventriloquist doll head called Hugo ["Hugo was rescued from the attic of a dead magician."]
- Nine Owls in a Baguette performed on a massive modular snyth and a large Programmable Musical Pig.
- Meanwhile, Timmy Print Face (a Microprinter) was running all day, printing tweets about interesting including a rather lovely ASCII representation of Twitpics. (I was delighted to learn that it uses my Ruby microprinter library. Hurrah for sharing code).
- Something else happening all day, and nicely timed to finish just as the event was wrapping up, was Sandy Noble’s Polargraph printer, busily printing Russell’s face. [Watch this great video from Nick]
- And there’s more. The National Museum of Computing bought along some things from their BBC Domesday collection, plus an ASR-33 Teletype and Elite running on on a BBC Micro. What more could a geek possibly want?
After the Hack Circus, there followed a short period of making and doing, including Words and Pictures who helped us make a comic, and Oli Shaw and Lynda Lorraine who set up a plasticine creature creation workshop / stall [here are the results while Matthew Solle + friends allowed people tro try out their collection of circuit bent toys and other musical instruments.
To get us in the mood for lunch, Chris Heathcote led us in an amazing hands on session of molecular gastronomy. First, to see if we were 'supertasters' we all tried sodium benzoate (which I couldn't really taste), phenylthiocarbamide (which tasted bitter and unpleasant. I think that means I tend towards liking sweet flavours. Which is true). Next we sampled dried tomato powder, pop rocks and monosodium glutamate before making tomato caviar (spherised tomato passata) and lastly trying miracle fruit (active ingredient: miraculin!) which confuses the taste buds normally receptive to sweet flavours to also be excited by sour ones. Lemons taste amazingly sweet, but the flavours in grapefruit and lime are what it's really all about. If you've never tried it you really must. [More info and links for further reading via Chris here]
After lunch, Alby Reid (possibly the best science teacher in the world) used 1000 Mousetraps and 2000 ping pong balls to demonstrate nuclear fission. Serious fun.
[Alternatively, a much more lovely mouse-eye-view video from Paul Downey here.]
A massive, massive thank you to Russell and everyone involved in making it such a brilliant day.